Minutes of Monthly Meeting

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April 13, 1997

Location: Alumni Hall, University of Dayton

Meeting Topic: Academic Freedom of Students

Speakers: Rev. James Heft, S.M., University Professor of Faith and Culture and Chancellor, University of Dayton

PRESENT: Connie Breen and Lou Ryterband, Cochairs; Arthur Auster, P.T. Bapu, Bob Breen, Larry Briskin, Jane Brown, Bert Buby, Phyllis Duckwall, Erika Garfunkel, Felix Garfunkel, Agnes Hannahs, Jack Hickey, Edith Holsinger, Sophie Kahn, Steve Kahn, Jack Kelley, Susan Livingston, John Magee, Cy Middendorf, Eileen Moorman, Bill Rain, Mary Ellen Rain, Ken Rosenzweig, Harold Rubenstein, Sophie Rubenstein, Robin Smith, Lou Vera, Dieter Walk, Suzie Walk, Marianne Weisman, Murray Weisman, Ade Windisch, William Youngkin.

Connie called the meeting to order at about 8:00 PM. Felix Garfunkel delivered the invocation which focused on differences in peoples' understanding of God, but the commonality of religions' focus on peoples' obligations to their fellow humans. Father Buby then introduced the meeting speaker, Father Jim Heft. Jim is Bert's fellow Marianist brother, and Jim has served the Society of Mary in many ways, including having been Provost of the University of Dayton (UD) and currently being very involved in its Catholic Intellectual Tradition program. Jim is respected nationally and has great pastoral concern. He loves the Dialogue and the University.

Jim pointed out that this presentation is quite different from his former presentations to the Dialogue in that it arises from an actual incident which raised the matter of the academic freedom of students, especially when there is disagreement between a professor and a student. Jim distributed to the attendees two handouts containing formal University statements concerning the rights of students to express their opinions in class and at other places on the campus. In general, these handouts, which are from the Student Handbook and the Faculty Handbook, provide extensive but not absolute rights to students to express their opinions. Jim noted that he is least capable as a lawyer.

History of Academic Freedom

Historians trace the concept of academic freedom back to Socrates in ancient Athens. Socrates was held in high esteem in the academy of Athens as a person with integrity. As a result of politically controversial statements he had made, he was sentenced to recant or commit suicide by drinking hemlock. Jim's presentation then jumped 1,000 years to the period of the 12th-14th Centuries. This period marked the beginning of the European universities. Universities were then under the protection of the Pope to prevent their being unduly influenced by the biases of the local community and local princes. In the year 1550, Peter Canisius, the Rector of the University of Munich, stated, "Governing this place is bringing me a lot of trouble and little benefit." After the Reformation, there was an attempt to resolve academic freedom questions regionally. Universities became confessionally oriented. In the early United States (US), the education of ministers was a major mission of universities; there was therefore a lot of control by religious authorities. In the second half of the 19th Century, however, religious influence over many universities waned. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) was founded in 1915 by professors to protect academic freedom and faculty interests. A key problem at that time was that rich, powerful university donors were often aggravated by some positions taken by professors. Most of these disputes involved social scientists. Jim noted that a concept of academic freedom became established in the great German universities of the late 19th Century. Academic freedom included the dual concepts of Lehrfreiheit (academic freedom in teaching) and Lernfreiheit (academic freedom in learning). However, student academic freedom never really developed to the same extent in the US. European students were generally older, and Lernfreiheit had more relevance for them. Instead, in the US, universities tended to take a more paternalistic role with respect to students, as represented by the legal doctrine of in loco parentis. However, this role was largely dropped in the US in the 1960's. Universities are now beginning to pick up this responsibility again. Jim noted that chapel was required at UD until the early 60's.

Rights and Responsibilities of Students at the University of Dayton

Jim then discussed the UD documents mentioned above which protect the freedom of students to communicate and dissent. In general, the limits on the rights of students have to do with the obligation not to disrupt the teaching and administrative functions of the University. However, prudence is required in deciding on academic freedom matters, because not every case is covered in the documents..

Jim discussed more specifically the rights of students. Students have the right to knowledge of course objectives and course operating procedures. For example, considering attendance as part of the student's grade computation is only allowable if it is so stated by the professor at the beginning of the term. Students have the right to question the data and views presented by the professor. Also, a student has the right to be evaluated solely on his or her academic performance. The student also has the right to procedural due process within the University. In administering the rights of students, it is important to recognize the intimidating effects of the power differential between students and faculty and/or administrators. Students may feel they have a grievance but do not want to file a formal complaint because of this power difference. Frequently, the lack of a formal complaint prevents the administration from intervening effectively.

Advocacy by Faculty in the Classroom

Faculty have the right to the expression of controversial ideas in the classroom, but ought to adhere to the professional standards of their discipline. However, the courts will go a long way in protecting the rights of professors to express their ideas. Jim noted that the University will be publishing, for the benefit of students, course descriptors that include the teaching style of the professor. Students could use this information in deciding which courses to take. Jim observed that some professors have confrontational teaching styles which can be effective with some students. Other students are turned off by such a teaching style. Jim questioned whether any professor can be fully "neutral" with respect to the material. Even if all facts presented are true, the selection of facts to present can be biased. The latitude required in controverted subject areas makes it even more difficult to decide when a professor may have exceeded the range of proper discretion. Jim noted that some professors try to provoke the students without betraying their own position. This is not Jim's style. He lays out many positions, but always states his own, as well, and the reasons for his position, leaving it to the students to evaluate all sides.

Questions and Discussion

The question period began at about 8:45 PM. Steve asked a question about the intellectual integrity and intellectual honesty of faculty. Professors may sometimes have motives other than educating students. Jim replied that peer review by faculty colleagues is the proper control on faculty performance. How do you evaluate integrity in teaching? This is much more difficult than evaluating research. Arthur noted that freedom of speech is not absolute. What would happen if a teacher taught something that was patently heretical or a distortion of the truth? Jim replied that if a theology professor taught as Catholic what is not Catholic, faculty peers could evaluate the competence of the faculty member. The Bishop could point out the appropriate teaching, but it would be up to the University to deal with the problem. Even if the faculty member did not have tenure, the bishop would have no authority to fire the faculty member.

At this point, Jim noted his attendance at the recent Chicago meeting of the Common Ground Project; this organization is designed to provide a forum for Catholics to discuss their differences and to move toward agreement on issues which divide the Church. At the weekend meeting, it became clear to Jim that communication and trust is very much a face-to-face thing. Jim noted with some distress the recent statement of a prominent group of Orthodox rabbis that Reform and Conservative Judaism are not legitimate. Jim emphasized the importance of "staying at the table" for the resolution of both intra-religious and inter-religious differences.

Larry asked about the problem of students who write something hateful in the student newspaper. Jim replied that one way of handling this problem is pre-censorship, which Jim does not favor. It is better to let the hateful material be published, and then engage in a campus conversation about it as a learning experience. Murray stated that he cherishes academic freedom in the US. But if there is no sanction for faculty excesses, then faculty can do what they want. Jim replied that academic freedom is not a protection for a professor against libel. Furthermore, Jim stated that teaching of hatred is an indication at least of academic incompetence. It is possible even to fire a professor (even a tenured one) for certain things.

Lou Vera, Archdiocese Interfaith Officer, had gotten in touch with Eugene Fisher. After consulting with Fisher, she asked whether the Catholic university has an obligation to present a full range of views about religious matters. Jim replied yes, but questioned how to be precise about what constitutes a "full range," especially in a controverted subject. He noted that what helps prevent a narrow interpretation of Catholic thought is a historical sense. Lou stated that Eugene Fisher expressed the view that UD should present in some forum the variety of opinions that exist in the state of Israel. The same principle would apply to feminism. Someone asked what happens when a professor crosses disciplines to make judgments for which he does not have the expertise? Jim replied that the boundaries of disciplines in some cases and on certain topics have become more permeable. Lou noted that as a student of political science, she would question whether the full range of political opinions were presented by the religious studies professors. Jim responded, stressing again that two "experts" on the Middle East might not fully agree on what opinions need to be mentioned in order to provide a "full range," even though there should be some overlap.

Edith noted that she had challenged many of the professors of courses she had taken at UD, but all her professors allowed her to disagree. Edith's idea is that the primary role of a teacher must be to teach a student to think. Dieter said that Paul Flacks (who was unfortunately unable to attend the meeting) asked him to ask his question: "how do you protect students from being unfairly influenced by a professor with a consistent pattern of bias?" Jim replied that the question already assumes the guilt of the professor. Latitude must be granted to professors in courses in controversial areas. Action that might be taken is first and foremost within the department. Jim asked the attendees to please not assume that the particular case that members of the Dialogue are concerned about is not receiving the attention it deserves.

Harold opened a different avenue of discussion. Could not the AAUP help in solving these problems? The AAUP makes statements about academic competence. Erica noted from the Student Handbook that students have the right to expression of their views in the classroom. She asked whether this protection applies also to continuing education students? Felix emphasized the importance of multiple views being presented in the classroom. In a free society, it is important to present all mainstream opinions. Jim agreed. The people Jim respects the most are the people with set convictions who maintain them in serious conversations with people of different convictions. What Jim admired about Cardinal Bernardin was his ability to work with people who disagreed with him, even forgiving a person who falsely accused him publicly of crimes . That spirit will serve us all well. The question and discussion period concluded at 9:20 PM.


Arthur announced the Sinclair Holocaust Remembrance program for the year 1997. On April 24 at 7:30 PM, Dr. Raphael Ezekiel will discuss "The Racist's Mind: Racists, Racism and Us" at Sinclair's Blair Hall. On May 12 at 6:00 PM, there will be an Opening Reception for artist Sandi-Jo Gorson Gordon at Sinclair's Learning Resources Center Gallery. Ms. Gorson Gordon's mixed media paintings based on Holocaust themes will be shown from May 12 until June 18.

Father Kelley announced the Clergy Institute at Temple Israel on Monday, April 14. He stated that past Clergy Institutes had had a profound influence on his thinking. Jack also announced that Passover will begin on Monday evening, April 21. Jack stated that he had published an article on Passion Plays in the 1997 edition of Explorations, newsletter of the American Interfaith Institute/World Alliance of Interfaith Organizations. Jack also discussed a recent controversial article by Judith Martin, in the Catholic magazine, America.1 This article was summarized in the Dayton Daily News, and a response by Paul Flacks was also published.

Lou Vera announced the Second Annual Dialogue Training Day to be held on June 7 from 9:00 AM until 4:00 PM at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Kettering. Contact the Ecumenical Office of the Archdiocese at 513-421-3131 for further information.

Connie announced that the May 11 Dialogue meeting will be for planning and election of officers for the coming two-year term. Members and friends are encouraged to come to next month's meeting with ideas for future Dialogue programs. Erica suggested Dialogue members put notices in their church or synagogue bulletins to recruit new members.

At this point, Connie lit a Hanukkah menorah and two candlesticks at the podium. She stated that, as she was thinking about the end of her term as Co-chair, she thought of the special light that has brought us all to a closer harmony, and she felt the candlelight best symbolized our special bond. Connie is honored to have been a part of the Dialogue to keep the lights burning.

The closing prayer was delivered by Father Bert Buby. It was a meditation based on Psalm 1 and the Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation, and involved praying for the peace of Jerusalem and the peace of Israel. It emphasized that we are all made in God's image, but sometimes we forget. We need to stay at the table. We must pray for brothers and sisters who are in conflict with each other. God's spirit is at work when we seek reconciliation.

The meeting was adjourned at about 10:00 PM.

Respectfully submitted,

Ken Rosenzweig, Secretary

1 Judith G. Martin, "Exclusive Claims Undermine Peace in Jerusalem," America, 175,2, July 20, 1996, pp. 6-7
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